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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Touching the Moon


Beginning three full days after the new moon, preferably after Shabbat, until the middle of the month, it is the custom of some to go outside and recite what is known as Kiddush Levanah, the sanctification of the moon. It is in fact not so much the sanctification of the moon, but rather a series of passages acknowledging God’s creation and the hope that during the coming weeks of the month one will be safe from all harm. It concludes: “Siman tov uMazal tov…May good fortune and blessing be for us and for the whole House of Israel.” One of the lines included in one of the formulations declares: “As I dance before you and cannot touch you, my enemies will not be able to touch me.” (Interestingly, the passage which contains this is omitted in both the American and Israeli versions of the Conservative/Masorti prayer book.


The question immediately arose after the first moon landing, 50 years ago this Saturday, should be this passage now be revised. Many said no, for after all most people are unable to reach the moon and even the two astronauts who walked on the moon required special suit suits, let alone incredible expenditures of technology to achieve it. However, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then still chief rabbi of the Israeli army, basing himself on an ancient rabbinic text, proposed the following text: “As I dance against you and do not touch you, so others, if they dance against me to harm me, they will not touch me.” Yes, a revision, but it lacks a sense that something truly historic had occurred; that humanity had indeed reached the moon; that the moon was no longer unapproachable. Finally, in 1997, Rabbi Arthur Waskow proposed the following: “Just as at last the children of Adam can touch you, so can all my enemies touch me. May therefore all the children of Adam cease being enemies to each other and turn themselves and each other into friends, so that all human beings will feel their hearts touched by each other’s pain.” Perhaps a bit touch-feely, but the sentiment of praying for the end of discord is certainly welcome and transforms this ancient ritual into a prayer for peace.


In 1969, news reports from Vietnam had to be videotaped and then flown elsewhere before they could be transmitted to the United States. It was therefore truly amazing that we could watch live—albeit with some degradation because the signal had to be retransmitted more than once before reaching our television screens—what was happening on the moon. We stayed up late that Sunday evening to see first Neil Armstrong and then less than 20 minutes later Buzz Aldrin bound across the lunar landscape. It truly was unbelievable that JFK’s challenge to be on the moon within a decade had been accomplished with the technology of that era. As Michio Kaku, the physicist and popular author, observed: “Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon.” We had overtaken the Russians in the race to the moon, despite their head start. It was a “Shehecheyanu” moment.


I look forward this Saturday evening to reliving those golden moments when man finally touched if not the stars, then at least our nearest neighbor, the moon. And may the penultimate phrases of Kiddush Levana echo in our lives: Shalom Aleichem, Shalom Aleichem, peace unto, peace unto you.”  


Shabbat shalom






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Pain Relief With Radio Waves


Pain relief without pills is a desiratum. On the market are a variety of devices that use light or electrical nerve stimulation to relieve pain. Now an Israeli company, DMT, in conjunction with Home Skinovations, also an Israel company, have developed a new device called the Alfa Plus, which it asserts is better than other products on the market.


Developed by Shahak “Chuck” Cohen it combines bipolar radio waves with dual-wavelength infrared technology and low-level laser therapy. The radio waves are designed to stimulate blood circulation; the infrared technology is to heat and ease skin pain and stiffness; and the laser therapy aids in relieving the skin.


The device is designed to provide relief from chronic pain and to eliminate pain from trauma, sports injury, and menstruation. The device is placed on the part of the body that hurts, on top of a conductive gel that assures proper delivery of the treatment and allows the device to move smoothly over the treatment area. 4 radio frequency diodes noninvasively penetrate the skin with deep heating to increase blood circulation and accelerate tissue regeneration.


According to Cohen, one 15-20 minute session is sufficient to deal with menstrual discomfort, whereas for chronic pain, such as back pain, the device is recommended to be used twice a day for the first few days and then once a day for two to three months, before cutting back to no more than 4 times a week. He admits that “Chronic pain will probably never go away, but our device can reduce the amount of pain and the intervals between the highest levels of pain.”


A clinical study in Israel found that using Alfa Plus along with a trigger-point lowered back pain in nearly 90% of the 100 or so patients tested. A second trial will test how the device performs on its own.


The device is manufactured in Israel and is sold for about $500 and is already available on Amazon and eBay, having received FDA and CE approval.  The company is now seeking distributors in the US and in other countries.






Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Balak (Numbers 23:27-25:9) is read this Saturday, July 20th.


24:15 He took up his theme, and said: Word of Balaam son of Beor,/Word of the man whose eye is true,/ (16( Word of him who hears God’s speech,/And beholds visions from the Almighty,/Prostrate, but with eyes unveiled:/ (17) What I see for them is not yet,/What I behold will not be soon:/A star rises from Jacob,/ A scepter [Shayvet] comes from Israel: / It smashes the brow of Moab,/The foundations of all children of Seth.


24:17 A star rises from Jacob,/ A scepter [Shayvet] comes from Israel: /. Balaam’s reference to star and meteor arose out of his predilection for astrology. [ed. Note: The comment is based on rendering Shayvet “meteor,” which would represent biblical parallelism.] At the core lay the ancient notion that everything on earth had its counterparty in heaven. In accordance with this idea the Mesopotamians developed an elaborate celestial geography. The north, or right side of the sky, was characterized as Subartu or Guitum; the south, or left side, as Akkad; the west, or upper reaches, as Amuru or Syria; the east, or lower reaches, as Elam. [All of these were places in ancient Mesopotamia.] Accordingly, a phenomenon appearing in any one of these quarters betokened the fate or fortune of the corresponding quarter on earth. What Balaam means, then, is that a comet, wondering star, or even meteor has appeared in the quarter of the heavens representing Israel and is heading toward the outskirts of that which answers to Moab, where it will eventually “strike.” (T.H. Gaster cited in W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary.  Born in 1906 Theodore Herzl Gaster was named in memory of Theodore Herzl by his father Dr. Moses Gaster who was an early Zionist, a distinguished scholar of folklore, as well as the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardi community. T. H. Gaster received his undergraduate degree in classics from the University of London in 1928 and a master’s degree in Near Eastern archaeology in 1936. A few years later, he moved to New York where he worked on his doctorate, which he received from Columbia. He began teaching part-time at the graduate school in 1942 and in 1945 began part-time teaching, as well at Dropsie College in Philadelphia. From 1946-1950 he was lecturer on Semitic civilization at NYU.  For a short time in the mid-40’s, he served as chief of the Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress. In 1951and 52 he served as a Fulbright Fellow in the history of religions at the University of Rome and in 1961 he was a Fulbright Fellow in Biblical studies and history of religions at the University of Melbourne. From the mid-40‘s to the mid-60’s he was a visiting professor at many colleges and universities in the United States as well as serving in that capacity three times at the University of Leeds. Only in 1966, did he finally gain a full-time academic position as professor of religion at Barnard College [where Sarrae took a course with him]. He revamped the curriculum and was head of the Department of religion from 1968-1972. From 1971 to 1981 he was professor of religion and director of ancient Near Eastern studies at Dropsie. Upon his retirement, he again served as visiting professor in several universities, including at the University of Florida. He died in Philadelphia in 1992. He was a prolific author, and his The Dead Sea Scripture in English Translation, first published in 1956, sold over 200,000 copies. That same year, he issued The New Golden Bough: A New Abridgement of the Classic Work by Sir James Frazer. It, too, was a publishing success. Other works by Gaster include Passover, its History and Traditions, published in 1949, Purim and Hanukkah in Custom and Tradition: Feast of Lots, Feast of Lights, which appeared in 1950, and Festival of the Jewish Year: A Modern Interpretation and Guide, first issued in 1953. Mention should also be made of Thespis: Ritual, Myth and drama in the Ancient near East, whose first edition was in 1950, with a revised version appearing in 1961.)

Sat, July 20 2019 17 Tammuz 5779